The Sauer model 38H or often just H was a small semi-automatic pistol made in Nazi Germany from 1938 until just after the end of World War II by the prestigious firm J.P. Sauer und Sohn, then based in Suhl, Germany. The "H" in the model number denoted 'hammerless.'
The "H" in the model number indicates the round was struck with a hammer as opposed to striker style firing of earlier Sauer models. It featured a shrouded hammer, double-action/single action trigger, single column magazine, and an action spring surrounding a fixed barrel. What was revolutionary about this handgun was the first use of a lever that either cocked or decocked the hammer safely. The hammer on the Sauer 38H could be lowered for safe carry at any time. A hollow space on the trigger indicated if the concealed hammer was cocked; if completely exposed, the hammer was lowered. When a round was chambered, a small pin would protrude behind the rear sight as an indicator. Another advanced feature for its time is a magazine safety, a device which deactivates the trigger when the magazine is removed from the pistol, even if a round is chambered. Almost all modern pistols by SIG-Sauer, the firm of which J.P. Sauer und Sohn became a part, made today feature a decocking lever. Most modern SIG-Sauer pistols feature controls in almost the same place as on the Sauer 38H.
The grips of the pistol were constructed of Bakelite. Age often results in the cracking and crumbling of the grips on surviving examples. All original grips featured "SUS" lettering standing for "Sauer und Sohn" which could be found on the same side of the pistol as the magazine release. It is unusual for a present-day example to have original, undamaged grips.
The Sauer 38H was produced mainly in .32 ACP caliber, however some rare examples were also made in .380 ACP and .22 Long Rifle calibers. The model 38H was used by German armed forces such as the Luftwaffe, as well as police forces in numbers nearly equal to the Walther PPK. The Sauer 38H was produced for military, police, and the commercial market.
Sauer developed the 38H from their earlier semi-automatic pistols. It was necessary to compete with companies such as Mauser on the commercial market. However, with the outbreak of the war, most pistols went to various German police agencies, often equipped with a black leather holster. These guns were stamped by those agencies and some can still be found with the holster and additional magazine with which they were distributed. Sauer 38H pistols presented to Nazi officials usually featured custom engraving, ivory grips, and often gold inlay as well. For example, in September 2004 the Rock Island Auction Company sold a Sauer 38H, serial number 363573, that belonged to S.S. Colonel-General Joseph "Sepp" Dietrich for $43,125.00.
The Sauer 38H was produced in three basic models. Generally, the slide of the first model says "JP Sauer und Sohn" on the left. The second version says only "CAL 7.65", and the third version omits the safety and the cocking/decocking lever. Towards the end of the war, weapons produced throughout Nazi empire were simplified for quicker, cheaper production. For the 38H, this meant simpler markings, rough finish, and the elimination of features like the slide-mounted safety. So-called "late-war" models were still fully functional though. Final examples, produced up until April 1945 when the factory was overrun by the Allies, feature mismatched serial numbers and poor fit and finish.
The spirit of the Sauer 38H lives on in the SigSauer P232 and its predecessor the P230, which also feature a fixed barrel, decocking lever, and similar internal design. As a testament to their fine design, many Sauer 38Hs are regularly used by owners to this day albeit usually with replacement grips.